FLIPPER - NEW RULES NO RULES
On PUBLIC FLIPPER LIMITED (1986)
by Christopher Laramee
"Success is survival."
Leonard Cohen somewhere in Europe 1972.
Like fear cowering beside naked enlightenment borne out of stereo speakers blasting at full volume, the Flipper sound is monolithic. Also, comedic. Drunken broadsides delivered with a certain "elan" and matched with a ferocious attack usually reserved for bar fights or marital disputes of a particularly ugly nature. Also, there's a lot of pure FUN to be had here, the joy associated with clanging electric tones fighting for space with rudimentary riffs and drum fills that roll right off the stage. Free rock? Yeah, OK, I'll go with that to a point. But that handy description don't do justice to Flipper in full flight, the rhythms banging up against walls of sax, guitars and strangled threats (vocals) that glide together in a fucked way. Truly free, yes. Punk Rock? Fuck that term. The only groups that matter somehow manage to (honestly or dishonestly) reflect their audience, their times and their own sublime embracement or disgust with what's going on around them at that point in time. Sound like a load of shit? Yeah, I'll 'fess up to that. I'm grappling with this record though. As dear to my heart as it is, its weird dimensions and hard turns don't make it easy to plaster on some flowery effusive praise and genuflect before it all nice and neat. Ya gotta get dirty. And, man, is this motherfucker DIRTY.
So just to get it out of the way, these boys liked some drinks and some drugs with some regularity. So what. So do YOU. I'm not focusing on their chemical pursuits or personal issues, 'cause that's their business. I give a shit about what's coming out the speakers. Do your own homework on who shot this or who smoked that. That's not what I'm after. My tack is more along the lines of this: Ted Falconi played guitar, Bruce Loose and Will Shatter shared bass and vocal assignments and Steve DePace hit the drums (someone else scorches the sax). And this double album is a collection of songs recorded between 1980 and 1985. Also, my preference for their live stuff over the studio albums is no slur on those fine slices of wax (GENERIC being a stone cold all-time winner), it's just my opinion that the live experience illuminates the Flipper thang the brightest.
The fine folks at 4 Men With Beards have kept this in print so go buy it if you dig it. And do yourself a favour and get it on the double vinyl version for full impact. A disc or download will do in a pinch but it’s nothing compared to throwing it on as intended and having a gay old time with the boys, going from side to side and grabbing beers from the fridge as the show gets going. It's about an 8 beer listen on my end...
The song “Sex Bomb” kicks off side C with the group pleading for beer from the stage in NYC and cuts to the staggered intro of this classic track (guess they got their beers). As dumb and as brilliant as anything ever recorded, this one destroys the album version by a country mile! Ted enacts horrific abuse on his axe as Will cheerleads the band to ever greater heights of abandon and beautiful chaotic blends, the tune regularly collapsing under the weight of their stabbing assault on it. This monster is one of my favorite tunes of all time, reminding a guy of why he got into music in the first place. Nothing wrong with a load of groovy noise and some impassioned yelping to let ya know you're alive, and who gives a fuck why?
“Shine” ends side C and is one of the most wonderful moments in time to have ever been captured on recording equipment. The aural equivalent of all those A-bomb eruption films we've all seen, this track has few equals in 20th century music, all genres or styles considered. Burning hell arriving on wings of insane vengeance. Will screaming, "I saw you, I saw you SHINE!!!" as the walls come down around him. Shearing guitar runs flatten against tortured saxophone wailing as the noise gets bigger and more intense with each second that crawls by. The overwhelming impression I am left with is of POSITIVITY, a cleansing fire akin to Coltrane's Ascension in terms of balls out hard action and texture. Other lyrics that rise above the din include, "I've got to hammer the walls with my hands! I've got to strip this flesh from my bones!!" Transcending, liquid, threatening, assuring and long gone all at once, it really takes your breath away what Flipper does with the materials at hand. A true group performance if there ever was one.
“Love Canal” starts side B with Bruce asking the crowd if they "got a line, I'm picking up a contact high like a motherfucker..." Possibly the earth's most out of tune bass line kicks the song off like a tweakers wet dream, pitch-shifted vocals diving between the rank episodic "interplay" traded off by Steve and Ted in some sorta approximation of a groove and before too long, the whole shebang falls apart and ends. A real Flipper leitmotif, if there ever was one.
Ending side B with a downer of epic proportions is “If I Can’t Be Drunk.” That pesky sax rears its head again. Complete lyrics:
If I can't be drunk
I don't wanna be alive.
I work all day and
If I don't drink,
I'm gonna beat my wife.
If I can't be drunk,
I don't wanna be alive.
(repeat in random order)
Steve really holds shit down on this one and gets it to soar. A pitiful piece of self-loathing (celebration?) set to a serpentine stagger through shadows best forgotten, I can say this one of the few songs I got in my stack of records that scares me. A blitzed nightmare lurking in the corner, you can't just learn how to play this. You gotta live it, like they say, I guess. What a fuckin bummer.
I find it difficult to recommend this album to the unconverted, so basically that’s god-damn nearly everyone I know. So what's the point, you ask? It's FUCKING GENIUS MUSIC! It's got heart, rhythm, life, noise, humour, and a tone of other great things. This one stares you down and offers no apologies, just great times, a couple of drinks and acceleration of the highest order. Flipper STILL rules OK, no matter what you've heard. And the LC quote at the top just means they're still going, the music is still infecting, moving, frightening, entertaining and angering people to this day. That's success.
RIP Will, John and Ricky.
Oh, and fuck ART-ROCK. Flipper aren't no punk, dirge or art rock band. Just a rock band, for anyone who cares about that.
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